I think it's safe to say I have not been kind to the work of Shawn Levy in print so far.
"Big Fat Liar." "Just Married." "Cheaper By The Dozen." "The Pink Panther." Both of the "Night At The Museum" films. That's a painful list. But it's also a list of films that managed to do well at the box-office, well enough in some cases to see Levy climb onto the A-list. He's the sort of filmmaker executives love, good with the talent, able to work within a budget, and he makes films that make money. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Amblin' and producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford went looking for a director for "Real Steel," Levy would be one of the names on their list.
What is a surprise to me is how well Levy seems to have done at making a genuine mid-'80s Amblin' movie. I know we heard a lot of talk about how "Super 8" was the Spielberg fetish film this year, and certainly that movie indulged a lot of stylistic touches that were designed to evoke that Amblin' feeling. I'd say it's proof that you're as strong as the actual script you shoot, and John Gatins has taken a whole lot of familiar and done something special with it, something that Levy benefits from as much as he does from a game and able cast.
I think it's safe to say I have not been kind to the work of Shawn Levy in print so far.
It's strange but true: Monday night is one of the craziest nights of Fantastic Fest every single year.
This is the night that starts with awards and ends with feuds, where the festival gives away prizes, then pits the Americans versus the foreigners, where the drinking starts early and ends ugly. This is not like any other festival's awards evening, and it's pure spectacle every single year.
Where else do you have to drink beer from the actual prize you are given? And where else would they follow up the awards with a game show?
I didn't make it into the room for the awards ceremony this year. I was seated outside on the patio of the Alamo instead, and I got the press release as the awards were being announced. By all accounts, there was much debauchery and madness over the course of handing the awards out this year, and a truly distressing amount of Shiner was consumed. I think they got a lot of this right, and they shined some attention on some truly worthy films, some of which I've reviewed now, some of which I haven't. I'm here at Fantastic Fest until Friday of this week, though, so I'll have plenty more for you in the days ahead.
How has Yoshihiro Nakamura remained an international secret?
If there was an American equivalent to "A Boy And His Samurai," it would be the sort of film that would end up earning $100 million from family audiences. It is a sincere, high-concept movie that absolutely plays to formula, but does it with a zeal that is enormously endearing. It is interesting that I'll be publishing my review of the movie "Real Steel" today as well, because these films both fall into some of the same broad genre definitions.
In both films, there is a boy who needs a father figure, and an unlikely figure, associated primarily with violence, has to learn how to also display a tender and protective side to bond with the boy. In this movie, Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is struggling to raise her young son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), who is almost kindergarten age. He's at that point where kids accept whatever reality works best for them, where the whole world is made of possibilities and they're really starting to come into focus as people. Hiroko left her husband because he expected her to play some sort of conventional domestic role, and she needs to work. She needs to have a place in things and be good at something. And so she's raising Tomoya alone, and one afternoon, the two of them meet Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido), who appears to be a genuine samurai from the Edo period, somehow transported to modern Tokyo. So of course, Tomoya takes him home.
Just so we're clear on this, I want a distributor to buy "Juan Of The Dead." Now. Immediately.
This has been my busiest festival year so far. I was at Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Toronto, and now Fantastic Fest, and part of the game you play when you attend all of these events is figuring out what you need to see now and what you can see later. Even now, I'm counting on AFI Fest in November to pick up some titles I've missed at other festivals, and even within a festival, I find myself trying to shuffle things around to fit in the most films possible.
One of the films that I had a chance to see in Toronto but missed was "Juan Of The Dead." I did end up meeting writer/director Alejandro Brugues in a hotel lobby for a few minutes, and I promised him there that I'd see the film during Fantastic Fest. I missed the first screening here in Austin, and I missed Sunday night's press screening. So when the Monday morning 11:15 AM screening rolled around, I was in my seat as early as possible. Good thing, too, because word of mouth has been building on the film over the course of the festival, and it was totally packed.
When I was 11 years old, I conned my mom into taking me to see "Comin' At Ya" in the theater. I knew it was rated R, but I neglected to mention that in the pitch I gave when I asked her to take me to see it. I knew the game back then, and i knew how I had to play it. I had to convince one of my two parents that they NEEDED to see whatever movie it was that I wanted to see. If not them, then someone else who resembled a responsible adult enough to take me to see the film. Uncles, aunts, older brothers of friends… anyone was fair game in the "I want to see that R-rated movie" sweepstakes.
In this particular case, all I cared about was "3D" and "Western." I was determined to get into the film, and I forget how I managed to convince my mother that it was something she wanted to see as well. What I do remember, quite clearly, was being yanked out of the theater by my arm, my mother positively livid as she yelled at an usher about the content of the film, and I remember that we ended up seeing the Dudley Moore comedy "Arthur" instead. Because there's nothing more appropriate for an eleven-year-old than non-stop hilarious intoxication.
If you should ever find yourself covered head to toe in human filth and driving a stolen tractor down a country road with an impaled dead dog hanging from the front, worried for your life, chances are you have made a wrong decision somewhere along the way.
Morten Tyldum's movie "Headhunters" is a member of a very particular sub-genre of film that I love, movies where someone makes a plan to screw someone else, and that plan goes very, very, very wrong. Done right, there's something delicious about watching a character get put through the wringer when it's entirely because of their own ill intent. In this film, we meet Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who tells us that he is 1.68 meters tall, and that he compensates for that height in a number of ways in his life.
He is aggressively confident as he moves through the world, and he is married to a tall stunning Nordic blonde, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), the idea personified. They live in a house he can't afford. He can't make enough in his work as a corporate headhunter to give Diana the lifestyle he feels that she deserves, and so he also moonlights as an art thief. We see how he gathers information in one job that allows him to feed jobs to Ove (Eivind Sander), his partner in crime. Together, they steal paintings and sculptures and replace them with copies, and that's what keeps Roger afloat.
What are the Fantastic Debates?
Last year, I attended the Debates but didn't write them up. It was just a fun evening out at the end of a long string of movies I saw and reviewed. In the year since then, though, every time I've told someone about the Debates and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Tim League, they've been captivated. They are fascinated that this event exists. They want to know more.
And so this year, I'm dedicated to bringing you the same sort of breathless blow-by-blow account of the Debates that I could have expected to read in the papers the morning after an Ali-Frazier match-up as a kid.
Because these are not just about entertainment. Oh, no. No, these are battles over the most important ideas in our current cultural conversation. These are life and death struggles, fought verbally first and physically second. There is no more significant event during the week of Fantastic Fest.
And this year, we were ringside for every single punch that was thrown.
I rarely remember my dreams.
When I was in Toronto this year for the festival, I was staying at a hotel that was ridiculously close to the venues where they were showing the movies, so I went home in the middle of a few of the days and got a nap or two. Since I rarely nap, and since most of the time I have terrible insomnia at home and don't sleep until I'm exhausted, at which point I pass out more than anything, I'm not used to the kind of shallow sleep I was getting in Toronto at all.
As a result, I started having crazy vivid dreams, and while I was having them, I was absolutely cognizant that they were dreams, but even so, I felt trapped in them, and they were absolutely nightmares. Things were embarrassing, disturbing, hard to explain, working against logic, the laws of physics suddenly up for grabs. I was upset but couldn't explain why in the dream, and even when I managed to wake up from the dreams, there was a mood they cast over me that was hard to shake. It was one of the strangest few days of consciousness I've ever had, and I think I'm glad I don't have more recall of what happens when I dream. I think it would be upsetting based on the work-out I got in those few short days.
Geography is one of the most important things in making an action movie, yet it is one of the most egregiously abused things in most big Hollywood action films. Last week, I ran a series of links out to all sorts of conversations about modern action cinema, and in those various conversations, there many conflicting theories about what works in modern action cinema advanced by the various writers and filmmakers involved.
Action geography has been on my mind for the last few weeks anyway thanks to the screening of "Sleepless Night" that I attended as part of the Toronto Midnight Madness program. I walked in knowing nothing about the film, and walked out wondering how Frederic Jardin has gone totally unnoticed so far as a filmmaker. Together with his co-writer Nicolas Saada, he's crafted a wickedly smart thriller that erupts into flurries of action in scenes that feel real, not like heightened Hollywood hooey. It's a smart premise in the first place, but then the film is broken into two long movements, one which teaches you every inch of this giant Paris nightclub, and then one where our knowledge of that location pays off in one thrilling scene after another.
Here's the thing about the "Human Centipede" movies: when you hear the premise of the films, that moment of "oh, gross, really?" is about as strong an impact as the films will ever have.
The first film is really all about the art of the misdirect. You hear the set-up and you dread the experience of actually seeing what it's about, and then when you do see it, it's fairly tame. Things are suggested. It's terrifying in concept more than execution. I didn't care for the first film, but I respect the way it's put together and the general filmmaking skills. Tom Six had a good sense of how to make you feel like you were going to see the end of the world, and the whole thing is so blatantly gleeful about being childish and ridiculous that it's hard to be upset by it. I would never call the first film a good film, but it's a well-made film that I don't think is interesting. It's not worthless. It's not trash. It's just provocation with no weight behind it, and it left me cold.